When walking into the slender, shimmering jewel box that is Amy Van Doran’s Modern Love Club, a contemporary art blitz strikes from all angles. When the East Village space opened last year as a hub for Van Doran’s high-profile matchmaking work, she described it as a “store that doesn’t sell anything.” But with prime wall space, a glass storefront and many friends in the art world, it made sense to use it as a gallery. Van Doran launched with an all-women group show called “GIRLS I LOVE,” which she followed up with an installation by art duo Wonderpuss Octopus. Modern Love Club became a female-run space exhibiting only women artists—until now.
An idea struck. Van Doran brought in curator Gabrielle Sirkin for the next show, running now, “Men I Love and Other Things I Think About.” She asked Sirkin to help build a didactic response to the space’s debut all-women show. This would be a declaration of ownership: a tongue-in-cheek all-male group show highlighting talent—both emerging and established—that they themselves loved. Some 30 artists were selected and their works were hung salon-style along the four walls. It’s boisterous, beautiful, entirely entertaining and—perhaps surprising for such an alternative space—showcases works that are very hard to get ahold of, including a stunning Marcel Dzama limited edition lithograph and three Jason Akira Somma single-channel video works.
Levels of meaning transpire as one’s gaze flows from piece to piece. A few narratives take hold. First, there seems to be a visual journey from the primordial to modern man—with beast in between (or ever-present)—and this ultimately yields to the interaction between humanity and nature, and then man and woman. For those familiar with the art world, there’s also the balance between well-known (David Shrigley, Ralph Steadman) and rising (Paul Lucido, Cory VanderPloeg, lefty OUT there)—peppered with cross-over artists like Kurt Vonnegut and Dave Eggers. Sirkin says there’s a nod here to the fact that art has long been a patriarchal system, where mentors pass the baton along to more male creators. She believes, though, that this is changing—with help from places like Modern Love Club.
As a female curator in a female-run space, Sirkin acknowledges there’s a sheer and intentional ridiculousness to what they’re doing. She points to the show’s title to explain further. “It’s goofy, unpretentious and even jokes at the way people perceive how women organize their thoughts.” She continues, “We’re not poking fun at the artists. I’m poking fun at the system. Even by including so much work inside the space, we’re acknowledging just how overrepresented male artists are.” Here, voice and dominion matter. As does diversity, with the artists drawn from many cultures and sexual orientations.
The show came together quite organically. “There were a few artists, right away, that came to mind,” she explains. Sirkin began with acclaimed portrait artist Platon—who she once worked for. His piece “isn’t actually a portrait,” she says. “He is known as a portrait photographer and yet this is a photo of Philip Treacy’s wooden carved headdress for Alexander McQueen. It came from The Met’s ‘China: Through the Looking Glass’ exhibition,” she adds. While devoid of a traditional face, the image emotes substantially. When surrounded by works of warped figures and bestial beings and further chaos, the whole wall takes on a supernatural aura.
Some artists made work specifically for the show. Other pieces, Sirkin tracked down. One particular standout sits in a hole in the wall, quite literally. This item, Jan M Peterson’s “Old School Hip Hop” (2011) woodblock piece, carries true magic. It was a formal decision to include it, based on size, as Sirkin sought to fill the void. There’s another type of diversity present here, as well: fiscal. Prices range from $30 pieces to $15,000. “This is not a Chelsea Gallery,” Sirkin concludes, “We wanted to build a level of comfortability, and accessibility.” Humor and levity act as punctuation marks to the show. Altogether, it’s a whirlwind worth getting caught up in.
“Men I Love and Other Things I Think About” runs now through 14 July at Modern Love Club, 156 First Avenue, New York.
Hero image by Colin Hughes, all other images courtesy of the Modern Love Club